Monthly Archives: April 2009

What Lies Beneath Word Power

This morning I was out for my daily walk. I usually try to leave my apartment before six thirty. It’s a great time to walk. The sun is still low enough so you get that “sunrise” feeling. The air is calm and still. Whatever weather has been going on during the night is in transition to whatever the weather will be like for the day. It’s like a shift change in the weather factory. The people that make the nighttime weather have clocked out, and the daytime weather people are just getting started. Kind of like they are looking over the report from the night crew to see what they are supposed to be doing. Sometimes they night crew has to work overtime, and daybreak doesn’t have much effect on the weather.

But this morning, it did. Last night was terribly windy, and was making a huge racket. Swirling sounds making all kinds of weird noises that don’t normally occur. This morning was quite different. Still. Calm. The clouds that had rained a little bit last night were still up there, big and dark and threatening, but they had a kind of strange peace to them. When I walked through the rice fields I couldn’t help but notice the largeness of the sky. The mountains off in the distance. The flat fields that the farmers have been getting ready for the spring rice planting. Beautiful.

Then I passed by the stream where the carp live. There is an elementary school nearby, and the children love to feed the fish. And because carp can pretty much eat anything, they grow pretty big. The carp are conditioned to swim to the bank of the stream whenever they see a person stop. Even though it is just a simple condition/response mechanisms, as fish aren’t know for their high intellect, but it’s cool nonetheless. You could almost imagine their fish conversations interrupted by the presence of a human, as they break out of their normal fish cliques and congregate on the bank, hoping for some food. Of course I didn’t have any. Even though I know, deep in my psyche, that they are just fish, and cannot think, cannot plan, cannot communicate, I felt the need to at apologize for not having any food for them. (Of course I looked around to make sure nobody saw me talking to the fish.)

I’ve seen other people doing that as well. Talking to animals, as if the animal could understand, and respond. Many people who keep pets that have become part of the family will tell you that they do indeed understand them. And I’m sure they do. When I was kid, my brother had a red lab. He could understand several words, and what they meant. There was (is?) that gorilla, Koko, who could (can?) supposedly use sign language to express complex “human” emotions.

Where is the difference between simple training, and pure communication? Under what circumstances would a human be able to communicate with an animal that he/she has never met before? Is human/animal communication purely a stimulus/response mechanism, and the animal really doesn’t know what is going on?

I was reading an article about human communication. Only seven percent of our face-to-face communication is based on the words we use. The rest is based on voice tone, body language, facial expressions and about a million other things that they probably don’t even know how to measure yet.

I don’t disagree that words are incredibly important. Without words we wouldn’t have much of a civilization. The use of words and language is likely what powered human evolution to become as cerebral as we are. So we can write blogs and read novels and create beautiful music instead of sitting around eating bananas all day. But words aren’t the only thing. Not by a long shot. There is much more going on in our communication that just words. You’ll be amazed what you will learn when you really pay attention to things. It kind of gives “reading between the lines” a whole new meaning, doesn’t it?


The Glory of Christ Revealed by the Jews

I saw a fantastic movie yesterday, called Defiance.  It is based on a true story about a group of Russian Jews hiding out in the forests during World War II. It showed their heroic courage of resistance against the Nazi’s. However, as much as I was moved by their resistance, and ultimate survival in the face of overwhelming evil, I’d like to talk about something else.

There was a scene, which caused me one of those “Aha” moments. I’m sure you know what I’m talking about. You are sitting there, reading this, and you stumble across something that causes your brain to go in an unexpected direction, and it makes a series of subsequent connections in your brain, which causes you to suddenly look at this from a new, and perhaps richer and more rewarding perspective.

That’s what happened to in between shoveling handfuls of salted buttery popcorn into my mouth. (The movie was just recently released here in my small town in Japan.) The particular scene in the movie was after a particularly hard winter. This group of people had escaped the cities, where they would have been put into the ghetto’s, which later turned into the horrible Nazi death camps. Because they were living in the forest, they had to build their own shelter, and find their own food. They had just gone through a harsh winter, and one day, they noticed the ice was thawing. The movie showed several moving scenes of people realizing that because the snow was thawing out, and the sun’s warmth was being felt, they had made it through the winter. The melting ice, the sun were signs of hope. The dark cold winter had passed, and the warm and bountiful spring was on its way.

This is where’ the AHA hit me. Imagine you are part of a nomadic tribe in Europe, during the last ice age. About ten thousand years ago. Every year the winter comes and the horrible cold kills many people and makes it difficult to live. Every day the sun gets lower and lower on the horizon as the cold icy death of winter approaches. If you are a nomadic hunter/gatherer this is horrible. You don’t have cities, or guns, or any kind of technology to create any sustainable warmth other than lighting a fire every night. And when everything is frozen, lighting a fire can prove difficult. (Just ask that guy in the Jack London story.)

You’re whole mindset is based on complete dependence on the elements being kind. Warm is good. Cold is bad. Every season that you make it through the winter is a reason to celebrate, just like the Russian Jews did. For them, they only went through that once or twice (I’m not sure how many years they had to hide out in the forests.) But for the primitive hunter-gatherers, it was a yearly occurrence. And also was a yearly occurrence was the celebration that the sun stopped moving lower and lower on the horizon and started moving up, signaling that spring was coming.

So perhaps they created a celebration of sorts. A two-stage celebration. The first stage, when the sun stopped moving lower on the horizon. And the second celebration, which really is a continuation of the first, is when the length of the day overcomes the length of the night. The first is the winter solstice. The second is the spring equinox.

The Winter Solstice. The Birth of the Sun. December Twenty First.
Christmas Day. The Birth of the Son. December Twenty Fifth.


The Spring Equinox. The overcoming of the darkness by the Sun. March Twenty First.
Easter. The overcoming of Death by the Son. The date varies, but it is directly related to the occurrence of a full moon (light in the darkness) after the Spring Equinox.


Could it be that the Christian religion, largely spread around the world by European culture, has its roots in primitive man’s mythology, which arose to help overcome the fear of winter, during the ice age in Europe ten thousand years ago?

Let me know what you think.


What’s the Plan?

I was having a drink with a couple of friends the other night. We went to a pretty popular bar downtown. It’s kind of a small “warm up” bar that you go to on the way to someplace else. Or sometimes you just go there and hang out for the whole night, because you can get involved in some pretty decent conversations. It is pretty small, and many nights it fills up, so if you are planning on going to a place like this for the night, it’s best to get there a bit early, otherwise you’ll have to find an interesting experience somewhere else. Which isn’t really hard to do, since you can create an interesting experience pretty much anywhere you go. But this particular evening, we were lucky enough to get a table to sit all three of us. We had planned only to have a maximum of two drinks, as we each had other plans we had to be getting to.

Plans are an interesting thing. You never really know if you are in charge of your plans, or if your plans are in charge of you. And when you involve other people, everyone’s plans can merge together into one super plan that is bigger than everyone. And before you know it, you are all collectively submitting yourselves to some nefarious “plan” that has overtaken all your conscious reason. You begin to make sacrifices in the name of the “plan.” It’s like you voluntarily give up your capacity to think for yourself, and choose your own direction. And even when there isn’t a “plan” to submit your higher intelligence to as an offering in exchange for imagined safety, you pretend there is one anyways.

I’m sure you’ve had this experience. You are with a few friends, sitting there, on a Friday or Saturday evening, or whatever evening is your night to relax. You sit around looking at each other, and keep asking yourselves “So, what’s the plan?” Your lack of a plan keeps you from making the most of your time so that you can enjoy yourself. Sometimes you’ll go out and have a fantastic night, all planned by somebody else. Or sometimes not planned by somebody else. Sometimes events are just random strings of overlapping coincidence, which when strung together seem to serendipitously give you a night of fortuitousness enjoyment. What is the difference between luck and chance?

Of course, when you do make a plan, and it comes off without any major hitches, you feel really good. Because you have given yourself a strong message. You can plan and choose your reality. You can choose to live your life however you want. And if you are really bold, you can ask yourself after your plans have flawlessly come out, “Aw, geeze, why didn’t I plan something even better?” I’m sure you know what that is like, right?

So we sat there in the bar, hanging on to our self imposed two-drink minimum. The place filled rather soon after we luckily got our favorite table. So naturally, we were reluctant to leave our seats. If so many people wanted to sit where we were sitting, our seats must be pretty important right? More important than anything else we could do by going out and creating something new, right? Or maybe not. Maybe we were just fooled that because other people wanted what we had, we thought it must be important. And here we were thinking that we were following our own plans. Funny when that happens.


How to Speak with Powerful Authority

You stand up, ready to speak. You pause. Slowly you turn your head, calmly scanning the crowd. You notice the look of attention and fascination on the faces of the crowd. Because you are such a powerful speaker, whatever conversations people had been engrossed in have automatically taken a backseat to their high expectations of your coming words. You are a powerful speaker. You speak with authority. When you speak, you command the room.

Ok, maybe not, but you’ll be more than halfway there after you finish reading this article, because I’m going to show you three quick and easy to learn techniques that will make your words more captivating than you’ve ever imagined. Some of the other techniques I write about on my blog can help as well. But before you go and read that, make sure to finish reading this, because despite these tips being incredibly easy, they are just as incredibly powerful. And the coolest thing about these techniques is you can use them anytime you are speaking to anybody about anything. Job interview, date, toastmasters speech. Ready? Let’s go.

Technique Number One.

Speak with authority. Ok that sounds a little vague. Speak in downward tones. You can end your sentences in three tones. Up, neutral, or down. You want neutral, but down is much better. If your sentences end on upward tone, you’ll sound unsure and without any authority. If you want a fantastic example of this, after you check out my blog, go over to Youtube and watch any clip you can find of President Obama. He has this technique down. (Down, get it?) When he speaks, he sounds as if he not only knows what he is talking about, but he believes it as well. And when you know what you are talking about, and you speak with belief and sincerity, you will easily captivate people.

Technique Number Two.

Create tension. Or a more technical name for this is create response potential. Sounds technical, but its simple. Simply pause in the middle of a sentence. If you can, say the following sentences out loud with the pauses where they are written:

I went to the store. (pause.) I bought an apple. (pause.) The apple tasted good.

Sounds pretty boring, right? Right. Now say it with different pauses, like this:

I went to the …(pause) store. I bought an..(pause) apple. The apple tasted…(pause) good.

Can you hear the difference? The more you practice, the easier it will get. When you master this technique, people will be hanging on your every word.

Technique Number Three.

The head tilt. Simply tilt your head back, just slightly. (Unless you are standing and talking to somebody who is much shorter than you.) Maybe about a centimeter. This will add to your aura of authority. And combined with the first two techniques, you’ll be amazed at how powerful your word will become. And the incredible thing is, people will have no idea that you are using these techniques. They’ll just know that they are totally captivated by your words. As they should, because your words are your power. And the more you cultivate your power, the more powerful you’ll become.


There is Magic Inside

I was walking down the street yesterday, minding my own business, like I normally do. Well, almost normally. Most of the time at least. And I passed by this very small flower shop. It was a flower shop that I had passed by several times before. I don’t know what it was that caused me to go inside. I certainly didn’t want to buy any flowers, as I wasn’t going anywhere that warranted a gift of flowers to anyone.

The first thing that struck me was just how large the flower shop seemed on the inside. From the outside, it looked like a small shop that could only hold maybe a few dozen arrangements. The front of the store was not that large, and on either side were rather looking storefronts, so you would never imagine what you could find inside until you really look. The first thing I was reminded of is the scene in Harry Potter (book four or five, I can’t remember) when he went to watch the world Quiddich Cup, and he went inside a tent set up by the Weasley’s. It was small on the outside, but enormous and filled with magic on the inside. That’s what this flower shop was like.

Inside were incredible arrangements of flowers I’d never even seen before. The colors were tantalizingly fantastic, and the way the proprietor had arranged them was absolutely breathtaking. I won’t even begin to try and describe it, because one, I only know the vocabulary of about six colors, and two, I only know the names of maybe three flowers. Bu suffice it to say that as soon as I went inside that shop, I started racking my brains for a reason to buy an arrangement or two and a reason to give them to somebody.

I started talking to the proprietor of the place. She had been in business for about ten years, all in the same shop. She had done several renovations to maximize the small space she had to work with, and the results spoke for themselves. She had originally been a high level executive assistant, pulling close to six figures a year (and that was over ten years ago,) but something about her job was less than satisfying. She wasn’t able to find happiness answering the needs of others. She was well respected, well liked, had enjoyed several promotions over the course of her career, but something was missing. She wasn’t able to choose her own direction.

So she looked around and found the flower shop for sale. She had always had a penchant for arranging things. But up until then, she had always been arranging things according to the criteria of other people. Like when you’ve had enough, and you need to choose things that are important to you. You feel a need to set your own course, and not have to follow the orders of others. You need to be yourself, whatever that may be. And she found it in this shop.

She said that at first the money was less than a quarter than she made before, but really enjoyed it. She could find ways to express her creativity in a way that gave her that special kind of satisfaction that you get when you do things your own way.

And of course, as time went on, and her shop became more and more successful, she started to earn more money than she did before. And not only that, but she is now able to set her own hours, choose her own arrangements, and feel really proud of her work.  Something she suspects never would have been possible before.

It’s kind of nice knowing that there are still people like this to model yourself after.


Find Treasure Here

I went over to a friend’s house recently. I had promised I would help him clean out his garage. I don’t remember the conditions of the promise, as helping somebody to clean out their garage is not something that you throw around. I would definitely place cleaning out somebody’s garage on the same level as moving, perhaps even in a category all on it’s on. At least moving, you don’t really need to get very dirty, and you usually get beer and pizza afterwards. And if you are lucky, your friends hired a moving company, so you only really need to help with the small stuff. But in helping somebody clean out their garage, there is no telling how much filth and grime you’ll have to wade through.

Because he did successfully persuade me that I did indeed promise him to help clean out his garage, I really didn’t have a choice. He said that he would share the profits from his upcoming garage sale, but I had my doubts. I had known this guy for a while; he’s not the kind of guy that can discover treasure lurking in his garage. I guess that is a matter of opinion, however way you slice it. It’s interesting when you make a choice based on what somebody persuades you to do. It’s almost as if whether or not I actually made the promise isn’t the issue, but rather how well he was able to persuade which was the deciding factor. But I digress.

So there we were, cleaning out his garage. As I suspected, we didn’t find much of value. So much so that we decided not to have a garage sale at all (there go my profits) and haul everything to the junkyard. At least it didn’t take as long, because once we decided that everything was going straight to the junkyard, we didn’t waste any time deciding which we could sell, or which we should throw in the trash heap. It’s amazing what happens when you remove indecision from your decision making process.

We threw everything in the junk heap, except for one item, which he refused to part with. It was an old electronics kit that he had bought many years ago from a local camera shop. It was a kind of a do-it-yourself kit that was apparently designed to foster the imagination of a budding tech wizard. He seemed to be confused when he found it, as it was hard to remember this. Then as he was able to slowly realize what this is, he found himself being able to remember fond memories. He started telling me stories about the fun he’d had with a kid. Taking things apart and putting them back together again. It was like he was able to experience the joy of discovery all over again. Seeing how happy he was when he found his hidden treasure, I couldn’t help but remember the toys I had when I was a kid. You know how when you have this memory, and you don’t really think about it, and something just sets it off? Something completely random that you don’t expect, and you suddenly find yourself remembering all those wonderful experiences that you’d had before? I think it’s pretty cool when stuff like that happens.

But he did end springing for the pizza and the beer after we cleaned out his garage. Luckily we didn’t have to do a lot of sweeping or anything. And because he has one of those garages that you never park your car in, there wasn’t a lot of grime and stuff. So when we finally made it to the pizza place, we weren’t completely filthy.

Can you think of any treasures that you have stored away that you’d forgotten until now?


Find Fascination Here

I had an interesting discussion at a bar the other night. I sometimes find it extremely fun to go out alone to places like that, simply because you meet so many new people that way. Some people, many people, prefer to go out in a group, or with at least two or three others. That way you are assured to having a good time, good conversation and an enjoyable evening. I completely see the value in that. I usually feel the same way. You don’ work at your job all week, only to get one or two days off, and then waste a valuable night of free time sitting by yourself nursing a cocktail. I can think of better ways to spend my time.

Sometimes, though, I like to go places alone, knowing that I will always be able to meet new people wherever I go. Nothing can be more invigorating than meeting up with new and interesting people, especially if they are completely different from you. There are so many different people with so many different backgrounds; you are almost always bound to find treasure wherever you look for it.

So I was sitting in this café/bar/restaurant downtown, when I started talking to these two guys. One was a local guy, who had never left this region in his entire life. The furthest away he’d ever been was to University, which was about an hour away by car or bus. The other guy had a strange profession. He was originally from Britain, but had been traveling the world for the past ten years. He had two licenses, or skills, that on their own would be enough to build a career on, but he had figured a way to combine them so that he could live in almost any country in the world and make a decent living. One was a professional Chef. He got his chef license, or certificate, or whatever you call it from a school in London. With this he could work in many top restaurants in the world. His second skill was a certified Scuba Diving Instructor. He explained that with this, he could teach scuba diving, or organize scuba diving parties, in any country where scuba diving is popular.

It would seem that he would be a fairly interesting person, given his skills and experience, but he seemed a bit bored with life. He said that everywhere he went; he found that people were the same. He cooked the same food; he encountered the same scuba problems and hang-ups. He didn’t seem like the globetrotting carefree Brit that you’d expect.

The other guy was a different story. This guy was one of the most fascinating people I’ve ever met. He was a type of biologist that deals with farming. He spends his days looking into microscopes to try and figure out what kinds of microbes are best for growing rice. When he does go outside, it is always to nearby rice farms, which are participating in some government funded university study on some bacteriological effect on rice crops. Something that would normally put me to sleep in a hurry. But something about this was really fascinating; the way the guy explained it. It was like he was able to find fascination in any aspect of life. He was so engaged with his work, and he was able feel large amounts of appreciation, that you couldn’t help but to feel appreciation as well as he described it.

He was one of those rare individuals that just by being near this person, you can really feel and experience the wonder of life that is all around you, all the time. Wherever you go, there it is. And it’s not like its shrouded in some kind of secret mystery or something. All you have to do is look, really look. And you’ll see it.


Cultivate and Express Creativity

I bumped into a friend of mine the other day a coffee shop downtown. It’s one of those laid back independent coffee shops that takes pride in their individuality. They have several nights of various forms of “community entertainment.” Usually some kind of musical performance by budding artists. It’s always interesting to go there, and see people who can really put themselves out there. Although there never really is a lot of people, I always admire the people who come and give their all for the few fans that do turn out.

My friend was telling me about her roommate. She had been working at a design company for the last several years. She’d started as an intern, and worked her way up to a junior designer position. She was kind of worried because her company, which was a small independent one, not unlike the coffee shop, was going to be bought out by a national chain. Now I’m not too aware of the goings on in the design business, so I didn’t want to appear foolish by asking my friend a bunch of naïve sounding questions.

I asked her why she got into the business in the first place, and she said that she had always liked to be creative. When asked if she’d still be able to express her creativity once the new company took over, she said that it was likely that she would. She described how important it was for her to express her creativity.

She went on to describe how creativity is one of the greatest achievements of humankind. When people lose their creativity, and begin to go through life doing the same thing day after day, they can become depressed. The secret is to find ways to express yourself in ways that honor your creative self. Find ways to think in new directions that can help you to stay energized as you move through an otherwise normal life. She told me how important it is to spend a few minutes each day doing something that can exercise your mind, even for only a few minutes. That is the secret to happiness. Exercising your mind in those ways that you know are right for you.

So we both decided that her roommate would likely keep her job, given her track record at the design company. And even then, we weren’t sure what was going to happen, as the impending buyout was nothing more than a rumor at that point. Another thing we decided was that living your life based on rumors and imaginations about the future never really got anybody anyplace.

And the particular band, actually it was two guys with acoustic guitars, was pretty good. They sang a few old covers and a couple of original songs. I think it’s great that there are still people that can create new things, and then go and belt them out in public for all to enjoy.


Transfer of Resources

Last week I had dinner with a friend of mine. He was telling me about a problem that he was having at work. Not really a “problem” per se, more like an issue that had come up that he was wondering how he was going to resolve it. Even then it was really only an issue to him, and nobody else. He was a part time worker at an independent bookstore, and had been for several months. He reported directly to the owner of the bookstore, as it was a small store, and only had a few employees. It wasn’t like one of those huge chains that have about eighteen levels of middle management, with each manager only concerned with pleasing the person above them. Since this was her first store, my friends’ boss, the owner, was acutely aware of the day-to-day operations. It’s a tough gig these days to open up and run your own shop, as I’m sure you know.

The problem my friend was having was with an issue that had come up with stocking the shelves. He used to be an assistant manager at a grocery store, and was well aware of the strategies employed by large supermarkets to trick you into buying way more stuff that you’d originally intended. I’m sure you’ve had the experience of going to the supermarket to pick out one or two items, and then ending up with a basket of stuff that disqualified you from the nine items or less line. I don’t even want to start on what happens when you go grocery shopping when you’re hungry.

But my friend was worried about talking to her. He didn’t want to approach her, because she had spent a lot more time in a book-selling environment than she did. But he was sure that if he applied his expertise learned from the supermarket, he could easily increase her sales, her profit, and likely her happiness. All it required was arranging the books that would allow people the opportunity to browse through more of the store, then just grabbing the recent best seller and then making a beeline for the register. Her store had many treasures that people would love to find, if only they had the opportunity. My friend was absolutely certain of this.

It’s interesting when you think about it. Somebody from a grocery store applying marketing techniques to a bookstore. People buy food and buy books for completely different reasons. You’d never think that a strategy in one environment would translate well into another environment. Some people have the mistaken belief that if you learn a skill in one area, that it can’t apply to many other areas of your life. Others have realized that you can take something that works, and apply it in other places. One of the great things about being human is your inherent ability to find all kinds of resources that you already have and apply them in other areas of your life.

Which is finally what my friend did. He finally got up the courage to go and talk to her, and express his desires and convince her to let him help her. Because he was able to speak with confidence, and that he had her best interests in mind, she was able to accept his ideas. When I spoke with him last night, he said that they had spent the last two days rearranging the bookstore per his experience. And they were both much happier for it. He for being able to express himself and his ideas, and she for being able to discover a new way to increase her business.


The Skillfull Bees

Once there was a group of bees. They lived in a rather large hive, which was located in a fairly large forest. They had been living there for about a year, and were aware that their growing hive would need to find another place to live soon. Now bees are a particularly strange animal. Most animals live in a kind of social organization. Wolves, dolphins, hummingbirds, they all have their own set of social rules or instincts that they live by. Some closer knit than others, like dolphins or wolves. Some more loosely based on family ties as in hummingbirds or walrus’s.

Bees are an exception. Bees are much more influenced by social instincts than other creatures. It is not accident that the word for a group of bees, “swarm,” is used in mathematics to describe any number of different collections of elements that can collectively be described as a single entity. One hive of bees can almost be treated as a single animal, according to many scientists. Not unlike many different cells in the body of a mammal, each bee has a specific function, and does not stray from that function. A bee separated from its group will not survive very long.

It’s interesting to compare this to human beings. Several studies have been done (anecdotally of course) where human babies that have not been provided with a physical connection with others has been severely developmentally disabled. Humans need physical contact with other humans as much as we need food and water. Some argue that this need is much more pronounced in early life, but it never disappears altogether. We need each other.

And the particular group of bees in this particular story is no different. They, collectively, realized that with the growing number in their group, they needed to find a new home that would support them. And so they decided, collectively, to begin actively seeking new resources. Now when bees do something like this, a peculiar thing happens. Some of the bees whose job it is to find food, and then through an elaborate set of signals and dances alert the rest of the group where it is, must use this same bee technology to find a place that they deem suitable for their new home.

It’s kind of like when you develop a skill of some sort, and you realize that you can transfer this skill into another area of your life. Because you have certain skills, you can easily use this skill in another part of what you do. And it’s important to realize that you have these skills, and that there are many ways to use them.

So the bees, through their magic of bee technology, quickly shifted their behavior to achieve a new goal. And before they knew it, the collective had re established itself in a new home, which was bigger and brighter than ever before. And that is something to think about.